Devil's Dyke Victorian Funfair

As beach-seekers flocked to the fashionable resort of Brighton, thrill-seekers were lured to the playground amusements at Devil’s Dyke.

Merry-go-rounds, bicycle railways, coconut shies and fortune tellers festooned Devil’s Dyke Adventure Park in the late 19th century.

Victorian revellers from the capital headed for the South Downs beauty spot to delight in the latest pleasure rides and attractions offered by Britain’s leading funfair.

Bought in 1892 by game hunter and traveller Mr HJ Hubbard, the Dyke Estate was transformed into a leisure playground that embraced the weird, wonderful and plain unusual.

One of the most spectacular civil engineering feats was built at the Dyke Park. Britain’s first aerial cableway presented a view of the magnificent panoramas never seen before.

A Royal Hot Spot

Royal interest in Devil’s Dyke emerged in the 1750s when Lt William Roy undertook the Survey and Sketch of the Coast of Sussex for King George II.

As Brighton enjoyed more and more royal favour, the Dyke’s natural beauty grew in fame and high society could be seen cantering out of the town to enjoy the majestic landscape and coastline.

Tales spread of King William IV and Queen Adelaide driving a carriage up to Devil’s Dyke and Queen Victoria is said to have ridden out on horseback while staying at the Brighton Pavilion just before her marriage to Prince Albert.

Regency rank and fashion put Devil's Dyke on the tourist map
Regency rank and fashion take in the Sussex views from Devil's Dyke
Regency rank and fashion put Devil's Dyke on the tourist map

Commerce and Innovation

Early entrepreneur Mr William Thacker bought and restored a small inn perched on Devil’s Dyke in 1835 to attract more tourists.

His business venture was helped by the opening of the London-to-Brighton railway five years later in 1840. The seaside resort was now within easy reach of the capital and the popularity of the South Downs primary viewing spot escalated.

However, the journey from the coast took at least an hour in bumpy and uncomfortable horse-drawn brakes, so a three-mile branch of railway track was laid to Devil’s Dyke summit.

The new transport link opened in 1887 and ferried sightseers in ever greater numbers to enjoy the magnificence of this unique geological feature. A thriving tourism industry had begun.

Devil's Dyke entrance - late Victorian
Devil's Dyke entrance in a late Victorian postcard
Devil's Dyke entrance - late Victorian

The Adventure Park Opens

Game hunter and traveller Mr HJ Hubbard bought the Dyke Estate in1892 and set about turning Dyke Park into a pioneering amusement resort. The marvels of modern engineering were intermingled with the multitude of games and funfair rides.

As the steep scarp slope down to the valley and Saddlescombe proved arduous for some visitors, a funicular railway was built in 1889 and ran for 20 years.

But perhaps the greatest mechanical feat achieved during Mr Hubbard’s tenure was the opening of Britain’s first aerial cable car in 1894.

Tourists conveyed across the valley were afforded a heady perspective of the ground-breaking Victorian theme park built on an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Cable car across Devil's Dyke
Victorian postcard panorama of the cable car across Devil's Dyke
Cable car across Devil's Dyke

Watch the HuntleyFilmArchive video above to find out how the Victorians mixed business with pleasure. The National Trust is not responsible for the content of external websites.